State Won't Review Waterways in Path of Pipelines

May 25, 2017

Opponents of pipeline construction in Virginia are outraged over a decision from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.  DEQ says it won’t assess possible damage to rivers, streams and wetlands before deciding whether to issue permits.  Sandy Hausman has details.

The Cow Pasture River, one of the most pristine in Virginia, could be subject to blasting if the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is built.
Credit Southern Environmental Law Center

Environmentalists expected the state to analyze possible impacts at every place where proposed pipelines crossed rivers, streams and wetlands.  Ernie Reed, who heads a group of pipeline opponents called Friends of Nelson, doubts these projects could be built if water quality was considered.

“These pipelines are planned in the most challenging terrain in North America to get across – the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Allegheny Plateau, the Allegheny Mountains,"  Reed says. " These are not places for pipelines, and the reason they aren’t for pipelines is because these impacts are significant.”  :13

And at the Southern Environmental Law Center, Senior Attorney Greg Buppert claims the projects could damage water quality at many locations. 

“We’re talking about 700 – 800 river and stream crossings for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline alone – hundreds more for the Mountain Valley Pipeline,” Buppert says.

He adds that Dominion Energy will have to blast in or near more than 500 streams and rivers, so the state should step up. 

“Other states have used this authority to protect their waterways.  New York, for example, has denied 401 permits for two pipelines out of concerns for water quality in streams and rivers and wetlands.” 

Dominion Energy issued a statement pledging to protect the environment and noting that the Army Corps of Engineers would consider the impact to water quality overall, but Ernie Reed says that is not enough.

“The Army Corp of Engineers has what they call a national permit, and that does not require the detailed analysis that the state does," he explains. "Our governor has professed that this is going to be the most environmental pipeline ever proposed.  We, of course, don’t believe that’s the case, but without the information that the state could possibly generate, we won’t ever know.”  :19

DEQ says it decided not to review each and every water crossing, because that would duplicate the work of the Army Corps.  Instead, it says, it will focus on the environmental impact of pipelines in places not covered by the Corps such as ridge lines and hilltops.